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Back-To-Back Wins Earn Fifth Place Finish For Ireland Men

Back-To-Back Wins Earn Fifth Place Finish For Ireland Men

Back-To-Back Wins Earn Fifth Place Finish For Ireland Men

Connacht winger Andrew Smith charges towards the try-line during Ireland's 5th place semi-final triumph over Great Britain ©INPHO/Martin Seras Lima

A podium finish was out of reach, but the Ireland Men’s Sevens team (sponsored by TritonLake) produced a strong final day performance to claim fifth place at the HSBC SVNS Grand Final in Madrid.

James Topping’s side put together two well-earned play-off wins over Great Britain (19-14) and South Africa (12-7), despite being down to 10 players as Terry Kennedy, Billy Dardis, and Aaron O’Sullivan were all sidelined through injury.

The absence of Kennedy, the HSBC SVNS Series top try scorer with 32 tries, was keenly felt yesterday when Ireland suffered an extra-time defeat to New Zealand which knocked them out of the running for the Championship crown.

Incredibly, all five of Ireland’s matches under the baking Madrid sun were decided by a five-point margin. Their enviable consistency has seen them finish in the top five at every SVNS tournament this season, the highlights being their silver medal in Singapore, and bronzes won in Perth, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong.

Buoyed by their best ever SVNS Series finish of second, just behind League winners Argentina, Ireland’s exciting summer schedule continues with the two-legged Rugby Europe campaign before the big show in Paris with the Olympic Games at the end of July.

Returning to the resplendent Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano for this morning’s session, Topping gave a bench role to captain Harry McNulty for the 5th place semi-final against Britain. That meant Skerries native Hugo Lennox led the team out.

With selection hampered by those injuries, returning duo Hugo Keenan and Andrew Smith were key men in these ranking matches, along with Zac Ward, who impressively finished as the Series’ joint-top try-scoring forward (25 tries) alongside Australia’s Nathan Lawson.

Ireland scored from their first attack against Britain. Keenan set up a ruck on the right wing and although the ball squirted loose, Smith was alert to it. He cut inside from the GB 10-metre line, and accelerated through a gap for a fine score, converted by Lennox.

With the breakdown hotly contested throughout, two penalties brought Britain into scoring range. Keenan’s tap tackle prevented Jamie Barden from breaking through, but quick ball was fed wide for Jordan Edmunds to make it seven points apiece.

Both Ross McCann and Lennox had slight knock-ons, keeping play inside the Irish half. Will Homer tapped a scrum penalty, and a pacy move saw Harry Glover evade the clutches of Smith to give his team a 14-7 half-time advantage.

Ireland leaked a trio of penalties from the restart, allowing Britain to control possession. Their best opportunity came from a quick tap, only for Matt Davidson to put too much on his kick through and the ball bounced dead.

It was a costly mistake as from the resulting scrum, the tournament’s second seeds got motoring through Ward’s big carry initially. Chay Mullins picked from the ruck and tore through a defensive hole to score with aplomb from 40 metres out.

Following Lennox’s levelling conversion, Ward batted back the restart, Niall Comerford helped to secure quick ruck ball, and Mullins darted around the corner, timing his pass perfectly for Ward to stay clear of Homer along the right touchline and make it 19-14.

Gavin Mullin was soon flying back up into the British 22, yet Keenan was isolated by Kaleem Barreto for a turnover penalty. A rare Robbie Fergusson error handed possession back to Ireland, though, with a final scrum before Keenan booted the ball to touch.

Topping’s charges faced South Africa in a repeat of Friday’s pool match which saw a Mullin brace complete a 26-21 comeback victory. Ireland were quickest out of the blocks in today’s rematch, snapping up two first half tries without reply.

Ireland made the early inroads with Mullin and Comerford both gaining ground. It was Ward who found his way to the whitewash, cutting inside Impi Visser and handing off Tristan Leyds before rampaging clear for an excellent 65-metre run-in.

With Lennox adding a crisp conversion, the men in green’s strong start continued. Mullins carried strongly back into the South African 22, and McNulty launched a nice switch on the left, albeit that Quewin Nortje managed to haul down Mullin a few metres short.

South Africa were struggling to get out of their 22 at this stage, with Keenan first to a wayward lineout, and then a terrific tap tackle from Ward ended a break from deep by Leyds.

Ireland made the possession count as scrum half Lennox carried hard into contact, on the edge of the South African 22, and McNulty put Mullins stepping in off the left wing, where he sucked in two defenders and offloaded for the trailing McNulty to dive over.

Ward continued to catch the eye, picking up a late steal at the breakdown to halt the Blitzboks’ momentum, leaving it 12-0 at the interval. Smith replaced the Ballynahinch clubman after the restart, and he needed to be quick to reel in Ryan Oosthuizen on a threatening run.

Comerford typified Ireland’s determination to shut out South Africa, his ball-dislodging tackle denying Siviwe Soyizwapi right on the Irish line. A McNulty turnover led to Sean Cribbin kicking downfield to release some pressure on the defence.

Ireland continued to pressurise the South African breakdown, but replacement Tiaan Pretorius initiated a break down the left which led to Visser getting free to score behind the posts. Rosko Specman converted to make it a five-point game.

Crucially, Selvyn Davids’ restart with just over a minute remaining was gathered at the second attempt by Ward, who was back on the pitch. Soyiswapi then infringed at the breakdown, and Lennox and McNulty combined at the final lineout to see out the result.

Notably, it was Ireland’s fifth win in six matches against South Africa this season, and also maintained their record of not conceding more than one try in the second half of their meetings with the Blitzboks this year.

While the SVNS Series season is now wrapped up, there will be more playing opportunities for the wider Irish squad with the Rugby Europe Men’s Sevens Championship kicking off in Croatia’s Makarska next weekend. The final leg takes place in Hamburg on June 28-30.

IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Squad (2024 HSBC SVNS Grand Final – Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid, Friday, May 31-Sunday, June 2, 2024):

Niall Comerford (UCD RFC)
Jordan Conroy (Buccaneers RFC)
Sean Cribbin (Suttonians RFC)
Billy Dardis (Terenure College RFC)
Hugo Keenan (UCD RFC/Leinster)
Terry Kennedy (St. Mary’s College RFC)
Hugo Lennox (Skerries RFC)
Harry McNulty (UCD RFC) (capt)
Gavin Mullin (UCD RFC)
Chay Mullins (Galway Corinthians RFC/Connacht/IQ Rugby)
Aaron O’Sullivan (Blackrock College RFC)
Andrew Smith (Clontarf FC/Connacht)
Zac Ward (Ballynahinch RFC)

IRELAND MEN’S SEVENS Schedule – HSBC SVNS Grand Final – Madrid:

Friday, May 31 –


IRELAND 26 SOUTH AFRICA 21, Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Terry Kennedy, Zac Ward, Gavin Mullin 2; Cons: Billy Dardis, Hugo Lennox 2
South Africa: Tries: Tiaan Pretorius, Tristan Leyds, Quewin Nortje; Cons: Tristan Leyds 2, Selvyn Davids
HT: Ireland 7 South Africa 14

Team: Harry McNulty (capt), Niall Comerford, Aaron O’Sullivan, Billy Dardis, Terry Kennedy, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Conroy.

Replacements used: Zac Ward, Sean Cribbin, Gavin Mullin, Hugo Lennox, Andrew Smith.

Day 1 Round-Up: Late Mullin Double Does The Damage For Ireland Men Against Blitzboks

Saturday, June 1 –


IRELAND 21 FIJI 26 (after extra-time), Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Chay Mullins, Hugo Lennox, Jordan Conroy; Cons: Hugo Lennox 3
Fiji: Tries: Joji Nasova, Jerry Tuwai, Viwa Naduvalo 2; Cons: Iowane Teba 2, Waisea Nacuqu
HT: Ireland 7 Fiji 14

Team: Harry McNulty (capt), Andrew Smith, Chay Mullins, Billy Dardis, Sean Cribbin, Gavin Mullin, Terry Kennedy.

Replacements used: Hugo Lennox, Jordan Conroy, Zac Ward, Niall Comerford, Hugo Keenan.

IRELAND 17 NEW ZEALAND 22 (after extra-time), Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Jordan Conroy 2, Hugo Keenan; Con: Hugo Lennox
New Zealand: Tries: Joe Webber 2, Leroy Carter, Regan Ware; Con: Andrew Knewstubb
HT: Ireland 7 New Zealand 17

Team: Harry McNulty (capt), Niall Comerford, Zac Ward, Hugo Lennox, Gavin Mullin, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Conroy.

Replacements used: Aaron O’Sullivan, Andrew Smith, Sean Cribbin, Chay Mullins.

Day 2 Round-Up: Ireland Men Edged Out Of Championship Contention In Madrid

Sunday, June 2 –


IRELAND 19 GREAT BRITAIN 14, Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Andrew Smith, Chay Mullins, Zac Ward; Cons: Hugo Lennox 2
Great Britain: Tries: Jordan Edmunds, Harry Glover; Cons: Will Homer 2
HT: Ireland 7 Great Britain 14

Team: Zac Ward, Andrew Smith, Chay Mullins, Hugo Lennox, Sean Cribbin, Hugo Keenan, Jordan Conroy.

Replacements used: Niall Comerford, Harry McNulty (capt), Gavin Mullin.


IRELAND 12 SOUTH AFRICA 7, Estadio Cívitas Metropolitano, Madrid
Scorers: Ireland: Tries: Zac Ward, Harry McNulty; Con: Hugo Lennox
South Africa: Try: Impi Visser; Con: Rosko Specman
HT: Ireland 12 South Africa 0

Team: Harry McNulty (capt), Niall Comerford, Zac Ward, Hugo Lennox, Hugo Keenan, Gavin Mullin, Chay Mullins.

Replacements used: Andrew Smith, Jordan Conroy, Sean Cribbin.